In the gospel we are taught, especially as women, to be nice. To be kind and considerate and gentle with the feelings of others. It's the GOLDEN RULE, it's CHARITY, it's the pure love of Christ that we are learning to emulate.
My 8 year old daughter is the kind of person who is needy for attention, but full of love and affection for others. In fact, she almost embodies perfectly the golden rule, or "treat others how you wish to be treated". So even though she demands lots of attention from those around her and is quick to find offense, she is quick to see the needs of others and to serve them. She loves making friends, and for the most part is good at keeping them because she is so giving.
We live in a semi rural area, and neighbors are few and far between. The two neighbors we do have, however, have children that ride the bus. One is an angry sixth grader who comes from a split family with multiple remarriages and a much older step brother (that she loathes). We were friendly with her, and she and my 8 year old played together a little when we first moved in. But as often happens when one child is 7 and the other is 11, those friendships don't last long.
The other neighbor has three children that ride the bus, and though I haven't quite figured out their family situation, I think it involves multiple families living in the same house, so one of the children is a cousin rather than a sibling. They moved in after us, and their children came over to play a little, but when it turned out that they didn't care about playing with my children, just our Xbox, and coming over late in the evening just to play it, I limited their visits, and eventually they stopped. I felt bad about it, but they were just old enough that they would overwhelm my younger children into acting in inappropriate ways and I wasn't okay with that.
A couple of days ago my daughter came home from school complaining that the neighbor kids were not being nice to her at the bus stop. This isn't the first time she's complained about them. And at first I put it down to her oversensitivity, and counseled her to ignore them and just do her own thing with her two brothers also at the stop. But I also started taking them a few minutes later so there would be less time for any harassment. Just in case.
But she tries to be friends with everyone, and doesn't understand that not everyone is that way. So yesterday morning as I took them to the stop I sat in my car around the corner to wait until the bus comes, I overheard my daughter try to engage the other girl about her age, trying to clear up an apparent misunderstanding she'd had with them. She had told me that they were giving her a hard time about how "late" we come to the bus stop. (We get there five minutes before instead of the recommended ten.) As an adult I understood that it could have been an honest question that she took awry, or it could have been something for them to pick on her about.
So when I heard her ask the other girl if she wanted to know why we didn't get there as early as they did, I waited to hear the answer. It came as the other girl walked by in the wake of the 6th grader. She glanced back at my daughter with a disdainful look and a shouted "We don't care!" Then she and the older girl laughed.
My daughter watched them go, her sad confusion obvious in the slump of her shoulders. In her innocence she thought that if she cleared up the misunderstanding it would mean they could be friends. She didn't understand why they were so unkind. It would never occur to her to act that way.
I'll admit, I was sorely tempted to jump out of my car and go all "Momma Bear", but the bus came at that moment and there was nothing to be done but watch my now wounded 8 year old climb on the bus and wave at me as the bus went by.
As I drove home, fuming, I wondered how I was going to help this sensitive and kind daughter keep that gift of charity she has in abundance when the world around her is saying "only the hardhearted survive". I can't protect her from every mean person in the world, but I don't want her to lose that Christlike quality she has. That desire to please people can lead her down the wrong path if not properly trained, and I'm a little panicky at the image of her at 16, still trying to please her peers. (You get unexpected grandchildren that way.)
I'm still too close to the situation to have any answers, so I'm putting it out there to you: How do you teach your children to be kind, to 'turn the other cheek' without being a doormat? How do you help them draw the line between serving and servitude?